Royal Australian Air Force personnel discuss working with the F-35A aircraft at Williamtown

Royal Australian Air Force staff gave a rare insight into the Williamtown-based F-35A aircraft at a Hunter Defence Support Network event at Merewether last Friday.

Three members of the RAAF's No. 3 Squadron - Wing Commander Darren Clare, Squadron Leader Leigh Tinker and Flight Sergeant Damian Gardiner - answered questions from the luncheon's audience about working with the F-35A.

The first of Australia's F-35A joint strike fighters arrived at RAAF Base Williamtown in December. Australia has committed to 72 of the long-awaited and controversial fighters for three operational squadrons at Williamtown and Tindal.

No.3 Squadron has been testing the aircraft in the US for several years and now has six F-35As at Williamtown.

Wing Commander Darren Clare said flying the jet was like "riding on a roller-coaster but you're in control".

"The speed, the Gs; if you think about the G-forces thrown around, we pull up to nine Gs in the aeroplane.

"Race car drivers pull four to five when they're driving.

"Physically, when we pull a lot of Gs, it is quite demanding on our body."

Commander Clare discussed the technological advances, describing the F-35A as "like a computer pretending to be an aeroplane".

"I physically log into the aeroplane with a username and a password," he said.

Flight Sergeant Damian Gardiner said the F-35A was more software-driven than past electro-mechanical jets.

"From an avionics background, I've adapted OK to it, we're still educating our workforce," he said. "We're bringing people up to speed with application-based stuff."

Squadron Leader Leigh Tinker said the introduction of the aircraft had led to a more diverse workforce.

"We're trying to be different," he said.

"We're trying to encourage the workforce to be more diverse. If you're an avionics person, let's not just do avionics, let's do everything."

Asked about the jet's corrosion issues, Tinker said learning how to manage the aircraft at Williamtown had been a challenge this year.

"The Williamtown environment has been the biggest learning curve we've got at the moment," he said. "Not that we're the only country that operates near the beach.

"We've got a wash cycle. So at two weeks we will do a wash with chemicals, like a detergent, and then we'll rinse it off the other second week just to get the salt off it."

Officials of F-35A manufacturer Lockheed Martin also spoke at the event, along with Newcastle Business School's Julia Connell.

Hunter Defence Support Network supports Defence families in the region. The organisation raises funds for PTSD-related initiatives.

Comments